Asian solar power growth could increase lead poisoning

Date: 
September 20, 2011

Plans for China and India to generate more solar power may increase lead pollution, according to a study published last month, according to a report in SciDev.net.

The move could release more than 2.4 million tonnes of lead pollution in China and India, according to the analysis of government plans by researchers at the University of Tennessee, United States. This is because off-grid solar power in both countries uses lead–acid batteries for storing energy.

The team also found that both countries have large amounts of lead leak into the environment — 33 percent in China and 22 percent in India — from the total amount mined, smelted, used in battery manufacturing, and recycled. Their findings were published in the journal Energy Policy.

India plans to add 12 gw of solar power by 2022, including the distribution of 20 million solar lanterns. It aims to provide renewable energy to 80,000 villages outside the power grid — 25 percent of which are unsuitable for grid connection — so it will depend on lead batteries, the authors said.

The low efficiency of India's battery production, lead mining and recycling industries means that the amount of lead leaked into the environment is likely to be high. Based on emissions from new battery-producing units in India and China, the authors estimated that lead emissions will equate to one-third of the world's total lead production.

They attributed the high emissions to inadequate regulation of environmental standards. "Lead pollution control is relatively new in the regulatory space so there aren't legacy standards or 'norms' that the countries adhere to," said Chris Cherry, one of the authors.

Government representatives insisted that India's solar plans focused on grid-based solar power, where lead batteries are not necessary.

China’s solar company JinkoSolar was yesterday told to halt production after hundreds of villagers gathered to protest the company’s pollution record.